Envisioning Equality in Computer Science

Alex (right) going for a walk with a friend

Originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, Alejandro Castaneda, (Alex) discovered Portland State University in high school while he was searching for Computer Science programs and schools in the Pacific Northwest that participated in the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program. He told me his mom said “I want you to go to school somewhere that is close enough that I can drive to you.” He went on and told me that he loved the way campus looked and the close proximity and connections with large companies like Nike and Intel. He wanted to attend college in a big city that was growing so that he would have lots of job opportunities after graduating. “Even today, the city of Portland is one of my favorite parts about attending PSU,” he says. The discounted tuition rate he has with WUE made it possible for him to attend PSU and that’s what helped make the decision.

When he was growing up, he would always help his family with technical stuff and grew to have an interest in computers, so choosing Computer Science was natural. However, when he got to college classes, he discovered that the content he would be learning was very different than what he was expecting. “It’s less…IT than I expected. More data. Like, less fixing and more making. But I love it. The most exciting part is being able to create whatever you want. There are infinite possibilities in the field of Computer Science.”

Alex and I talked for over an hour, but I feel like I only got a hint at his depth of knowledge and interest in the topics we covered. He has such a vast understanding of not only the subject matter he studies but the social and cultural significance around it, and what the implications are for the future of his field.

The main thing I noticed during our conversation is that Alex is committed to building equality in the field of computer science. He is involved with so many organizations I could barely keep track. He is the Mentorship Director at WiCS (We in Computer Science), a student group that works to challenge the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people, women, gender non-conforming, first-generation immigrants, people of color, and disabled people from the field of computer science. “We aim to build spaces where people feel as though ‘We Belong’ so it’s exciting to partake in something that will change our community. In the mentorship program, my team works to pair students in need of a mentor with those who are seeking someone to help out, so it’s extremely beneficial.”

He works with tech organizations off-campus as well. “By being part of the campus, you are also part of the city. You can easily meet so many other people who aren’t students.”

He is involved with the organization Out in Tech: a non-profit that aims to unite LGBTQ+ tech community. They do a lot of Portland community events and mixers. He also mentioned the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, a national organization of professional engineers to serve as role models in the Hispanic community. Engineers without Borders do various projects around the city. He said they worked on building solar lamps and a self-sustaining shower designed for homeless populations in the city.

At this point, you may be wondering how on earth he keeps up with all these commitments in addition to going to class and having a social life. He turned his phone toward me so I could see his Google Calendar — it was like a colorful Christmas tree, with overlapping calendar notifications, reminders, and color-coordinated events. In awe, I told him how impressed I was by his commitment and drive and managing this crazy schedule. He laughed and said “I get it from my mom. She is always working. I can’t just sit around and do nothing. So I seem to always occupy myself in some way by taking more than I can handle and then managing all that and feeling so awesome when I do.”

We talked a little bit about his transition from Las Vegas to Portland. He came to Portland not knowing anyone and he said he felt alone for a little while, but decided to try and make friends and was able to meet tons of people through campus. At resource centers like the Global Diversity and Inclusion Club, there were always events going on. Living in Campus Housing his freshman year gave him a lot of points of connection and helped him build friendships with other students. “The university provides structure to the events on campus by posting fliers, and The School of Business highlights every event on campus to get you involved.”

He was telling me he knows so many people now from his involvement though classes, the Ambassador Program, and Campus Recreation, when, by sheer coincidence, he looked up and pointed to someone walking by on the sidewalk outside. “Like her, I actually know her, that’s Amber. We were in the same dorm our sophomore year.” He lives off-campus now, but the roommates he has are friends that he made from living on campus.

He told me something that I hear a lot of students say: “Professors really care about you and try to get to know you. They want to see you succeed. If you actually put in the time and effort, the professors will reciprocate your hard work.”

I was really moved by a story he told about his most pivotal moment at Portland State. “At the end of my Freshman Inquiry class, my professor, Dr. Kenny Bagley, came up to me and extended his hand and told me “Alex, you should get a Ph.D.” I was completely taken aback because I barely considered getting my bachelors, and here my professor who’s known me for only a year was recommending me to pursue a doctorate. This experience motivated me because I feel as though now I have many people invested in my life. He saw capabilities in me that I didn’t even see in myself.”

Here at PSU, we are so proud of students like Alex who work hard to make opportunities equal for everyone. Increasing representation and dismantling structural barriers is so important to building a better world for us all. People like Alex are shaping the future by emboldening others today, and at PSU, the possibilities for this are endless.

Discover your potential. Apply today.

International Student Pursues Passion for Film at PSU

Many people live their entire lives in just one country, some just one city. But not Sebastian Suarez Hode. Originally born in Honduras, his family moved to Mozambique when he was ten years old for his father’s job. After high school, he chose Portland State University and moved 10,000 miles away from his family and friends to pursue his passion for filmmaking. 

Sebastian wanted to study somewhere that had opportunities for growth and success, but not in a city so big he couldn’t overcome the competitive atmosphere in the industry. When I asked him how he knew his future was in the film industry, he said his passion was ignited when he started practicing photography in high school. “I realized I had a talent. Lots of people complimented my work so I began to pursue it further,” explained Hode. I loved the confidence. The focus of his work transformed over time into documentary work. His interests were unlimited; he would research anything from local news to nature, to community services, and charity work.

The thing that drew him to PSU to study film was the benefit of the surrounding city of Portland. “There are lots of up and coming productions here, which is great for a film student.” As we all know, the show “Portlandia” recently brought a ton of attention to the city and built a reputation as a unique place, known for weird, quirky people, who have an obsession with brunch, organic vegan cuisine and SUVs to transport excessive camping gear. “The city is what made the decision for me to attend PSU. Portland is your classroom. It is a great background for subjects in film and photography. It’s a fun, cool city, with close proximity to cool nature like the high desert region, mountains, and beaches along the coast. I can even get on the city train and in 20 minutes I can get to the massive Forest Park.”

Not just for creative pursuits, he says the city had the added benefit and convenience of getting around on public transportation. “The city is easy to navigate and you don’t need a car.” (PSU students can ride the TriMet Streetcar for free with your PSU ID!) “PSU is in the center of downtown, so everything you need is right nearby.”
However, this transition was definitely a huge challenge and the move was intimidating. He arrived in the city not knowing a single person. He was completely on his own and had no family in the United States. For his freshman year, he lived in a dorm on campus where he was able to make friends. “Campus housing places you in dorms with people who you have classes with, so you can make friends easier. Living in a dorm was a great introduction to college because it fosters a tight-knit community.”

He told me the story of the first friends he made at PSU. While waiting in line for the first event on the first day of orientation, he just started making conversation with the other nervous students in line next to him. By the time they got to the front of the line, they were laughing and joking like old friends. “This experience is such a classic college story, but it’s representative of my whole experience at PSU. People will say ‘hi’ to you right away and communicate with you in meaningful ways. The campus is so welcoming and open-minded. The friends I made that day are still some of my closest friendships.”

I learned so much about the School of Film during our interview. Sebastian is working on a Bachelor of Science in Film, but PSU also offers a Bachelor of Arts. He says the difference is in the material you study. The B.S. focuses more on the math and science stuff, while the B.A. focuses on the humanities aspect. Who knew.

His education goal, in addition to graduating with a degree in film, is to come out of school with connections in the industry. “All the professors here at PSU are already working in the field and they help students come out of college with professional connections. All the skills I need are taught in school, but in this industry, the most valuable thing is to know others.”

In addition to classes, Sebastian works on campus in the Undergraduate Admissions office. He is an International Admissions Representative and helps prospective PSU students navigate application and immigration requirements. You can watch videos he made about why he chose PSU and an introduction to an international student at the School of Business!

We are so grateful for the global perspective that Sebastian brings to our community, not just Portland, but also the United States. He is such a driven and passionate student and this is reflected in his work. He made the brave decision to pursue a degree in another country and he enjoys spreading the word about his experience as an international student. If you are an international student and are considering PSU, contact one of our international student counselors to get started on your journey.

6 Best Study Spots on Campus – Ranked

Being on campus in the middle of bustling downtown, we get used to being surrounded by distractions. It can seem impossible to find a place to focus and get work done. As a student, it is super important to study in an environment free of interruptions. With finals week coming up, we scoured campus to find the most productive study spots at PSU.

#6 Academic and Student Recreation Center: Yes, the gym is here, but this building has multiple spots on several floors to get work done. The first floor features plenty of chairs and tables for studying with a group. On a sunny day, you definitely need to visit the expansive 5th floor balcony to study; surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the city and a peekaboo from Mt. Hood.

#5 Karl Miller Center: This stylish building has plenty of solo or collaborative space on almost every floor. The modern design provides ample access to power outlets and natural lighting. CoCo Donuts and Best Baguette are on-premise for when you need a study snack break. Visit CoCo Donuts after 2pm for their stellar happy hour deal: just two dollars for a donut and coffee.

#4 Fariborz Maseeh Hall: Our newest campus building is artfully designed to make the most of natural light, has plenty of seating, tons of outlets, and secluded spots if you look for them. Case Study Coffee is located on the first floor.

#3 Smith Memorial Student Union: This building was designed with students in mind. There are study spaces throughout the entire space with comfy chairs and plenty of tables to spread your work out. Large windows overlooking the beautiful scenery on the Park Blocks provide a relaxing atmosphere to focus and get work done. The sky bridge between Smith and Cramer Hall fills up quickly but if you’re able to find a spot, it’s a good one for getting work done.

#2 Millar Library: If you’re working on a group project, the flexible study areas on the 3rd floor provide ample room with movable furniture and study booths. Students with children under 5 can even reserve a spot in the family study room, a space designed to accommodate kids with toys, books, and a large window. There are also silent study areas in the basement, and 4th and 5th floors for those who need silence to focus.

Viking Pavilion

#1 Viking Pavilion: Our sports arena might seem like an unlikely place for getting work done. Turns out there are several hidden spots, perfect getting work done. There is seating and tables on multiple floors for solo or group study sessions. Versa Cafe on this first floor will keep you caffeinated and focused.

5 Ways to Ease Homesickness

Homesickness can be one of the toughest, most unexpected challenges when you’re new in college. It can really happen to anyone, even if you’re just one city away from home. 


Homesickness feels a lot like like anxiety or depression and usually happens when we feel disconnected from familiar people and places. There are lots of ways homesickness can present itself but the most common symptoms are comparing your old setting with the new one or wanting to call home frequently. You could also have trouble sleeping or eating, feel nauseous, excessively sad or sluggish. 

It’s important to be able to enjoy your college experience! Not everyone’s process to overcome homesickness may be the same, but here are our best suggestions for dealing with these feelings:

Join a club to meet people.

PSU has your back with over 200 student clubs and groups! From a neuroscience club, to Greek life, to Acapella groups, you will definitely find a group of people with shared interests. The website also has links to volunteer and service opportunities if you want to go beyond campus. When you’re feeling down, it’s important to branch out and talk to new people! Even if it’s difficult, and especially if you don’t feel like it. The more you get out there, the more chances you’ll have to meet new friends. 

Visit SHAC.

All students enrolled in at least five credits can visit the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). Counseling Services offers brief individual and group counseling, crisis/emergency services, and workshops throughout the year to support your transition to PSU. Getting help is a really smart and brave thing to go. Actually a lot of students experience homesickness, so you are not alone. Definitely consider visiting SHAC for other health and wellness needs, too, from health and dental check ups, to acupuncture, to scheduling a time in the Mind Spa, which features a massage chair, light therapy and biofeedback games to help you relax.

Distract yourself!

One of the best ways to get yourself out of a funk is to just focus on something else for a little while. Go to the library to study rather than your dorm room, or go for a walk, or check out a new coffee shop, or visit a thrift store. There are unlimited things going on in the city pretty much all the time, you just have to get out there. The 5th Avenue Cinema is a student-run cinema that shows FREE movies for PSU students. The PSU Farmers Market is every Saturday, rain or shine, right on campus at the park blocks. The more places you go, the more people you will meet, and the more chances you’ll have to make friends. Our Visitor Guide also has tons of student-recommended activities (a bunch of them free or discounted for PSU students), restaurants and other cool spots to visit.

Visit the Campus Rec Center.

When you’re feeling bad, it can sound really tempting to loaf under a blanket and dig into a massive tub of ice cream, but this will likely only make you feel worse. To combat this, get some exercise to get those endorphins flowing, our body’s natural feel-good hormones. I always remind myself that the hardest part about going to the gym is just getting dressed and heading out the door. The Rec Center also makes it super easy and convenient to get a sweat going, with all kinds of fitness options, including an Olympic size pool, a hot tub, cardio and weight rooms, and a rock-climbing wall! They also offer a wide range of group fitness classes, including yoga, cycling, and Zumba. If you want to get started but are not sure how, there are also educational classes like lifting and rock climbing for all skill levels. Exercise is so good for our well-being. It has been shown to improve sleep, build confidence, tone muscle, and help with anxiety and depression.

Do you also like getting exercise outdoors? Spending time in nature reduces anxiety and depression and it can be fun to go on an adventure. Our Outdoor Program offers guided hikes throughout the state with a 50% discount for students.

Talk with friends and family back home.

This is an important step. Talking with your loved ones can help you feel more connected and loved. They will want to hear all about your new adventure here. And this is a great time  to ask for a care package including anything from home that would make you feel more comfortable, like photos or blankets, or even a stuffed animal (hey, no judgement here). 

However, just keep in mind that it’s important to not over-rely on your family and avoid your new world. If you notice that you’re spending more of your time talking with people back home than exploring your new environment, you will only prolong these bad feelings. You should set up a weekly time to call or FaceTime back home. This will help you create the space you need during the rest of the week to connect with your life at PSU and gives you something to look forward to.

BONUS tip: Talk to a Professor or Staff Member.

PSU faculty and staff are sympathetic and they want to see you do well here! Do you feel particularly fond of one of your professors, or another staff member like a Resident Assistant? These people are good to reach out to and are here to help you. For so many things, the stress that comes with big changes can be managed by simply talking to someone about what is on your mind. There is a good chance they have also experienced some kind of homesickness at one point and can give you some tips to get adjusted, or even just an open ear to hear you out.

Remember that it’s normal and common to feel homesick during your college experience and that it’s okay to miss home. These feelings normally pass on their own over time, but if they don’t pass or even get worse, there are resources here for when you need the help. Who knows, maybe when you return home you’ll be homesick for Portland! 

Four Essential Autumn Hikes Near Portland



As the days get shorter and temperatures get colder, it might seem like it’s not worth getting motivated to explore the outdoors. One of the best things about attending Portland State is the easy access to nature — any time of year. We’re 90 miles to the coast and 90 miles to Mt. Hood and there’s plenty to explore in between. Here are some nearby hikes that are especially amazing during the fall and cannot be missed out on:


Forest Park – Lower Macleay Trail

Difficulty level: Beginner
Distance: 1.7 miles
Distance from PSU: 11 minute drive, 1 hour on public transportation

Spanning 5,200 acres, Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the United States. This lush forest stretches eight miles along the northeast slope of the Tualatin Mountains. The Lower Macleay Trail follows Balch Creek, and hikers can expect to cross several wooden bridges. This trail passes the famous “Stone House”, otherwise known as the “Witch’s Castle,” a 1936 building that has since been abandoned and covered in lichen. Forest Park is a wonderful hike for visitors to experience the beauty of Oregon forests without leaving the Portland city limits.

Trillium Lake

Difficulty level: Beginner
Distance: 2 miles
Distance from PSU: 90 minute drive

There’s a reason this hike is popular. Views of Mt. Hood across a serene mountain lake make it worth the trek. And it’s beautiful year-round; in the fall the beauty is in the leaves and the reflections off the glassy water. It features gorgeous views of Mt. Hood and a wooden boardwalk that winds through the forest. It’s only two miles with a minimal incline, making this hike great for first-timers. Ducks and geese live near the lake, and you might get lucky and see deer grazing among the trees. In the winter, it’s a great beginner snowshoeing trail. Don’t own snowshoes? Rent them from the Outdoor Program!

Silver Falls – Trail of 10 Waterfalls

Difficulty level: Moderate, with lots of stairs (can be icy in cold temps)
Distance: 8.6 miles
Distance from PSU: 90 minute drive

Have you ever walked behind a waterfall? This is one of the most stunning hikes in Oregon and one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. 50 miles south of Downtown Portland, this hike ambles through lush forest, and takes you past waterfalls that are up to 200 feet tall! This is a long, winding hike, but it’s well maintained and the elevation gain is moderate. You can park at one of the many entrances and take the shorter two or four mile loops.

PSU Outdoor Program is leading a group hike at Silver Falls on November 23! Check out their schedule to view the full list of events.

Cape Horn Trail

Difficulty level: Strenuous
Distance: 6 mile loop
Distance from PSU: 45 minute drive

While this hike is in Washington, just across the Columbia River, it’s only a stone’s throw away from the Portland State campus. If you are up to the challenge of scaling steep inclines and braving muddy trails, you will be able to experience the breathtaking panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge. This hike also takes you past tumbling waterfalls and gives an epic display of the changing autumn foliage.

Oregon is known for its beautiful scenery and there is no shortage of adventure in the area. If you need a little extra motivation to get out and explore this season, head on over to the Portland State Outdoor Program where you can find affordable gear rentals and sign up for guided trips year-round. Have fun out there, and be sure to tag @go2psu on your adventure.

Meet The Unipiper

The Unipiper near the Portland sign

This Icon Keeps Portland Weird

A man in a Darth Vader costume riding a unicycle and playing flaming bagpipes can only mean one thing: you’re in Portland. “Keep Portland Weird” is the city’s unofficial motto for good reason. It’s a town that attracts people of all kinds. The mixture of historic and new buildings, along with its proximity to Oregon’s natural beauty, make it a hotbed of inspiration. This reputation for weirdness is what drew Brian Kidd—that unicycling, bagpipe-playing, costume-wearing man known as the “Unipiper”—to Portland. 

“Portland’s weird spirit comes from its culture of freedom and acceptance,” says Kidd. “People here are more likely to express themselves in their own ways and not judge others for their expression. That creates a vibrant art scene.”

Finding Portland

When Kidd moved here twelve years ago, he never expected to become an icon for Portland. He learned to unicycle and play bagpipes while going to college at the University of Virginia. While interning after graduation in North Carolina, Kidd started combining those two creative outlets. 

A couple of Kidd’s college friends, who were from Portland, kept talking about how great it was. They told him he would fit right in. “I became sick of hearing about it! But when I decided I wanted a change of scenery, it was on my shortlist of places to check out.” Kidd moved sight unseen. He had no intention of staying long term, but the city and its people changed his mind.

Kidd started showing off his Unipiper act at the Portland Saturday Market. He was quickly embraced by locals, and it wasn’t long until he went viral after posting a video of his performance online. “I think the reason I was embraced was because, in one image, you could see what Portland is all about,” says Kidd. “I was just in the right place at the right time to become the symbol of a much larger movement.”

Since that video blew up, Kidd has appeared on America’s Got Talent, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel Live! But those appearances were nothing compared to the support he found in the City of Rose. “Getting to perform live on TV is cool and all, but the best thing I’ve experienced as the Unipiper is just being accepted by the community here.”

It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Portland weird. “You can ask a hundred different people, you’ll get 100 different answers. Really, keeping Portland weird means preserving the things that the city built its reputation on in the first place,” says Kidd.

Finding those little things that make it unique can be hard for first-time visitors and new residents. Because of Kidd’s local-celebrity status, he gets messages on Facebook all the time from people who are planning a visit and want to know what they should do. Kidd can never answer that question because it depends on the person—and PDX has a little something for everyone. 

“The true beauty of Portland reveals itself over time,” says Kidd. “It shines best when you have time to let it wash over you, when you can take time to get to know the different neighborhoods and subcultures.” 

Portland Picks

Something everyone likes is food, and there are options for every palate. There are little food trucks all around the city, serving food from all cultures. 

But if Kidd had to pinpoint one thing someone visiting the area should see, it’s Multnomah Falls, about 45 minutes east of downtown. “When you travel to the Falls, you get to see that transition from the city into the natural landscape of the Columbia River Gorge. The scenery changes so drastically, and that helps you understand how nature affects the culture in Portland.”

Like all cities, Portland has been changing. The metro area has seen an influx of businesses, including many high-tech companies, earning it the nickname “Silicon Forest”. According to Kidd, this growth means many people are coming to the city for their jobs, not necessarily for that spirit of creativity. Although the new development brings with it fresh energy, it also makes it harder for new folks to realize what makes Portland great in the first place—all the weird little places fostered by its community of creatives. 

Kidd thought for a long time that there should be an organization to help introduce all these newcomers, in addition to long-time residents, to the city’s weirdness and inspire them to share their creative side. He thought someone else would start one. Then he realized he would have to make it happen himself. 

“I’ve built a reputation and have an audience, so I want to use that visibility to do good. I want to help foster that next Unipiper.” Kidd set out to start Weird Portland United, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and supporting creatives. 

Weird Portland United

Weird Portland United hosts a monthly lecture and networking series and free community events around various PDX locales. It will also kick off the Weird Portland Hall of Fame with a gala. The non-profit will be providing Weird Community Betterment Grants for people who need a bit of money to make their creative ideas come to life. As an example, Kidd says the grant could go to purchasing billboard space for strictly weird use. 

Kidd already has many “weirdos” on board, including Moshow, the internet-famous cat rapper. The mission of Weird Portland United: provide a platform where creative weirdos can share their stories and inspire others to do their part to keep Portland weird.

“I always say, be the weird you want to see in the world,” says Kidd. “Starting Weird Portland United is a culmination of my journey as the Unipiper.”

According to Kidd, Portland is that perfect environment to foster this creative expression. “The city has a reputation for letting everyone be themselves. It has everything you need to figure out who you are. Chances are, you are going to find your crowd here. I want to make sure it stays that place.”

This article originally appears in the Portland State Visitor Guide. See the full guide here or look for a copy around the city of Portland.

LGBTQ+ Advocate Fosters Community and Inclusivity at PSU

Eli Hess

Being exposed to diverse perspectives and experiences is an important part of college. And students play a key role in cultivating this environment. 

Eli Hess is one of these students. A liberal studies major who graduated in 2014 from Portland State, they returned as a postbaccalaureate (seeking a second bachelor’s degree). Now they’re taking classes toward a degree in social work.

As a queer and non-binary person, Eli always had advocacy on their mind. “Social justice is a big part of my world. That started to fall into place once I got involved again at PSU, with  Illuminate and the Queer Resource Center.”

With the help of students like Eli and the thriving LGBTQ+ community in Portland, PSU is consistently ranked among the top 30 LGBTQ+ friendly colleges in the nation by College Choice and Campus Pride. This welcoming environment is what made Eli initially interested in PSU. It’s proximity to downtown and extensive programs were a bonus.

Growing up in Portland, Eli went to small magnet schools specializing in art. They graduated from high school a year early and had plans to take a gap year before going to college. “I got anxious about taking time away from school and applied to PSU. I liked the idea of going to a large college that’s integrated with what’s happening downtown. I would have access to a broad range of topics and ideas.”

They took classes in many areas, from music to Spanish to queer studies. PSU’s gender, sexuality and queer studies major didn’t exist at the time. But that didn’t stop Eli—they majored in liberal studies, which allowed them the flexibility to take various sexuality and queer studies classes.

A few years after graduating, Eli got a hankering to go back to college. They returned to PSU to take writing classes while volunteering at Call to Safety, a domestic and sexual violence crisis line serving the Portland area. 

Eli started looking for opportunities to advocate for students on campus. They began working as a Peer Educator for Illuminate, a program through PSU’s Center for Health and Counseling (SHAC). It sheds light on the social injustices that lead to sexual and relationship violence and creates social change through prevention programming. 


Eli (front) wearing denim at PSU’s Denim Day event.

Illuminate holds events on campus, like Denim Day, a campaign that asks students, faculty and staff to wear denim to spread awareness about sexual violence. 

The program also hosts workshops on topics like bystander intervention, anti-oppression and consent. “We even meet with the athletic teams twice per year. We tailor workshops to specifically reflect how sports culture functions within our larger social structure. It’s discussion-based, giving athletes the opportunity to talk about their narratives and listen to their peers,” says Eli.

Then, Eli had that lightbulb moment. “I thought to myself, ‘oh, social work. This is what I want to do.’ Social work has always been in the back of my mind since my dad got his Master of Social Work from Portland State.”

Eli is now working on their bachelor’s in social work. They hope to earn their master’s in one year through the advanced standing option.

“I trust PSU specifically for social work. It’s one of the few social work programs in the state and it’s consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation,” says Eli.

Eli’s advocacy on campus continued to grow. While working for Illuminate, Eli made connections with people in the Queer Resource Center (QRC), a resource for LGBTQ+ students that provides community spaces, hosts events and offers academic and personal support. They worked in a desk staff position for two terms before becoming the Trans Student Resource and Retention Coordinator.

“I’m working exclusively with trans students,” says Eli. “The position provides these students with the resources they need in order to thrive here. I’m a part of a team creating space for queer and trans folks to feel safe and recognized. It’s important to foster a community where they’re seen and not just reduced to one part of their identity.”

Students visiting the QRC will find a comfortable lounge area, computer workstations with free printing and an LGBTQ+ lending library, which features clearly marked sections for authors who are trans, POC and more. Students can mingle with their peers or talk with confidential advocates. The QRC hosts events throughout the year, from campuswide pride celebrations to small LGBTQ+ movie nights. See list of events

“I really like working in education, especially from a student affairs perspective. It’s important to promote social justice in education. We must create ways for students who wouldn’t take a gender and sexuality class to learn about biases and intersectionality.”

Eli’s long-term goal is to continue working in higher education. They’re considering transitioning into the academic side after earning a doctorate.

Eli recognizes that part of social justice is reevaluating and continuing to educate oneself. “Education and community are the roots of social change. Learning is my thing. I view my community and my relationships as educational as well. We can learn so much from each other.”

See how you can get involved with the QRC or Illuminate.


Eli (far left) speaking on a panel at Sex and Chocolate, an event hosted by Illuminate that explores sexual health topics and provides lots of free chocolate.

Inside PSU’s Judaic Studies Program

Judaic Studies students studying talking in the Park Blocks

Portland State offers a unique Judaic Studies program, where students learn Jewish history and Hebrew. All students, whether or not they’re Jewish, can pursue a degree in Judaic Studies. The program provides important insight into how this rich history has shaped cultures across the world.

The Judaic Studies program is interdisciplinary—classes cross into other departments, including history, English, film and world languages and literatures.

There are also many opportunities to study abroad in Israel. Students can see historically significant sites firsthand and learn while being immersed in Jewish culture. Thousands of dollars of scholarship funds are available to students interested in studying abroad in Israel.

Students in the Judaic Studies program develop excellent critical thinking and communication skills. They leave the program prepared to enter diverse fields, like non-profit management, social justice, grant writing and law. Many students also go into graduate programs, Jewish educational institutions and rabbinical studies.

Degree Options

PSU offers both an undergraduate major and minor in Judaic Studies. Students majoring in Judaic Studies have the opportunity to choose an area of concentration, including Israel studies, modern Jewish history and more. Students minoring in Judaic Studies complete at least 28 credits of Judaic Studies coursework. Since many of the classes are cross-listed with the history department, a minor in Judaic Studies is a great fit for students majoring in history.

Scholarships

Students in the Judaic Studies program have access to six dedicated scholarships, many of which are awarded to multiple students each year. The major scholarship application deadline is February 1.

Available to Judaic Studies majors:
  • Harold Schnitzer Family Scholarship: a $5,000 annual award for up to four years available to incoming students. Applications for this scholarship are accepted on a rolling basis.
  • Lorry I. Lokey Endowed Fund for Israel Scholarship: an award of between $1,000 and $5,000 to support students studying abroad in Israel.
  • Shleifer Scholarship: a $5,000 annual award of tuition support.
Available to both majors and minors:
  • Sara Glasgow Cogan Memorial Scholarship and Internship: an award that covers six credits of tuition to support students interning at a local Jewish communal or cultural organization, like the Oregon Jewish Museum or the Center for Holocaust Education.
  • Abigail Jacobs-Kaufman Scholarship: a $500 to $1,000 award for students with demonstrated financial need to cover tuition.
  • Aspen Mitzvah Fund Scholarship: a $1,000 renewable scholarship for students completing their second- and third-year modern Hebrew sequences.

Get Involved

The Jewish Student Union and CHAI (the Cultural & Historical Association for Israel) provide cultural and educational resources for Jewish students and the larger community.

The Judaic Studies department has a comfortable, community space for students and student groups to gather. The program has a strong relationship with the local Jewish community and hosts fascinating lectures and events throughout the year.

See how you can join PSU’s Judaic Studies program.

PSU Community Celebrates Pride

Pride Flag

June is Pride month in Portland and around the world. The community is coming together to celebrate LGBTQ+ representation and continue the fight for equality.

2019 is an especially important year to share your Pride or stand up as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community—it marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a pivotal moment in the LGBTQ+ rights movement in America.

Portland State takes its responsibility to support LGBTQ+ students seriously. PSU is consistently ranked among the top 30 LGBTQ+ friendly colleges, earning it a five-star rating in the Campus Pride Index. The PSU community celebrates Pride on campus in May, leading up to the larger celebration happening all around the Rose City in June.

This is the first year PSU students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends are gathering together to walk in the Portland Pride Parade, an event which invites people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum and allies to come together to promote visibility, equality and inclusivity. Although tickets to walk with PSU are sold out, you can still cheer them on in the parade. The PSU Alumni Association and Queer Resource Center also host a pre-Pride happy hour on Thursday, June 13, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Rogue Hall. People registered to walk and others in the PSU community are invited to meet and get to know each other before the parade.

The Portland Pride Parade kicks off Saturday, June 15 with a Pride festival along Portland’s Waterfront Park. There will be booths displaying LGBTQ+ community organizations and businesses. Live music and drag performances will happen throughout the weekend. And of course, there will also be lots of delicious food. The parade begins Sunday, June 16 in the North Park Blocks, just a few blocks away from PSU’s campus. PSU registered marchers will gather and begin the mile-long parade route with around 8,000 other people. They will make their way past approximately 45,000 celebrating spectators, ending in the Waterfront Park. Portlanders turn up in droves, making it the second largest parade in Portland.

This is just one of the small ways the PSU community shows support for the LGBTQ+ folks around Portland. PSU students can utilize the Queer Resource Center, which offers LGBTQ+ resources and programming. The QRC hosts many Pride events throughout the academic year, like Pride Splash Mobs in the Campus Rec pool. The PSU Alumni Association has an LGBTQ Alumni Network for those who want to stay connected after graduation.

Here’s just a small sampling of the many Pride events happening around Portland:

  • OUTwright Theatre Festival: Thursday, June 13 through Sunday, June 30. Attend plays and readings that show how art can comment on and change society.
  • Big Gay Boat Ride: Sunday, June 16. Hop on a boat to cruise the Willamette and watch drag performances by local queens.
  • Queer Oregon: Looking Back, Moving Forward: Thursday, June 20. Commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall as you listen to a panel reflect on the issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community.

Check out more Pride events!

Returning Student’s Winding Journey to PSU

Bridie Cawthorne

When most people picture the typical college student, they think of someone fresh out of high school, living in a dorm and working a part-time job. But for many students, the journey to earning a college degree isn’t that straightforward. Sometimes, the path takes many years, and it’s never too late to go to college.

For Bridie Cawthorne, her path to earning her degree was complex. Now 38 years old, she’s about to graduate from PSU with her bachelor’s degree in biology, with a focus in molecular and cellular biology. And what’s next for Bridie? She plans on earning her Ph.D. and doing industry research.

Becoming a doctor was not her plan right out of high school. In fact, Bridie never graduated from high school. “Studying was hard for me. I was a terrible student when I was young.”

Bridie was born and raised in Portland, but she ended up moving a few times and working odd jobs. After volunteering for a veterinary hospital, she landed a job at an emergency veterinary clinic. She finally moved back to Portland and continued working as a veterinary technician.

“I spent 15 years doing that,” says Bridie, “and I felt like I had hit my glass ceiling. I was burnt out. I loved that job, but I couldn’t emotionally handle caring for sick animals anymore.”

A friend of Bridie’s was thinking about going back to school, and she encouraged her to do the same.

“I struggled like many other older students with the decision to go to college, especially because I didn’t graduate from high school. Not graduating is a hurdle many people think they can’t overcome and go back to school. Anyone can do it, and it’s totally worth it!”

It’s a common misconception that students need to have a high school diploma or GED to get into a four-year college. PSU has a few options for students with non-standard high school backgrounds, including enrolling as a non-degree student or transferring from a community college.

Bridie started taking classes at Portland Community College. She originally went back to school for nursing. That changed when she took a cell biology class.

“That class made me feel like things made sense. My professor’s lectures were amazing, and I felt supported in my learning process.”

She began doing research in the lab through BUILD EXITO, an undergraduate research training program that supports students on their pathway to become scientific researchers. Students at PSU and partnering community colleges and universities, like Portland Community College, get hands-on research experience at every stage of their undergraduate education. Students are matched with faculty advisors and peer mentors, participate in enrichment workshops and receive financial benefits, including monthly stipends and/or tuition remission. The goal of the program is to attract more diverse people into the biomedical and social sciences.

Through BUILD EXITO, Bridie was paired with faculty advisors who teach at Portland State, Dr. Mike Bartlett and  Dr. Jeff Singer. “Without their help and the support from BUILD EXITO, I wouldn’t have made it into the lab. I got so much guidance.”

When Bridie started college, she was afraid she’d still be a terrible student. But she excelled  and made it on the Dean’s List, an award that recognizes academic achievement. She earned her Associate of Science in two years at Portland Community College.

Transferring to Portland State was the perfect next step because she could continue with the BUILD EXITO program and keep working with her advisors. “All my professors and advisors have made themselves available, which helped shape my academic experience at PSU. They helped me get jobs and figure out what classes would be a good fit for me. Every student at PSU should take advantage of the faculty and staff who are there to help them succeed.”

Bridie does “wet lab” bench work in the molecular/cellular lab, which includes cloning and maintaining cell cultures, among other tasks. The research looks at proteins that play a role in regulating the cell cycle.

Because of all her hands-on lab experience, she knew working in a lab was the career she wanted. “PSU helped open doors for me. Getting to work in a real lab added so much value to my education. I took what I learned in my classes and was able to apply them to a lab environment,” says Bridie.

In her senior year, Bridie served as a classroom learning assistant. A few classes a term, she facilitated discussion in Principles of Biology, 200-level general biology classes. She helped students understand how to interpret peer-reviewed research.

At the end of 2018, Bridie went to the American Society of Cell Biology conference, which was held in San Diego. BUILD EXITO covered her travel funds. At the conference, Bridie presented a poster, showing professionals in the scientific community her research.

She faced some personal hardships along her path. “I had two miscarriages while I was a student. I was struggling with grief,” says Bridie. “I saw a therapist through SHAC. There can be a lot of stigmas associated with miscarriages, but I was able to get the help I needed.” Students taking more than five credits pay a Student Health fee, which covers most services through PSU’s Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC).

Bridie has a little more winding path to travel—she’s currently six months pregnant with her first child. After graduating from PSU, Bridie plans on taking a year off to focus on her husband and baby. Then, she hopes to get a Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at OHSU.

“When I first started taking college classes, I was self-conscious because I was the oldest person in the classroom. But I realized it doesn’t matter what age you are when you go to school. I was welcomed by a diverse group of students at Portland State. I feel supported here.”

See if PSU’s biology program is the right fit for your journey.

Bridie working in the molecular/cellular lab.